Nativity's roots run deep

Joe Anastasio brings a whole new meaning to Christmas tree with a nativity scene he created for the Italian American Heritage Association Museum.

In his latest recreation of the birth of Jesus, Anastasio uses a tree stump as the manger cover a twist to an old tradition.

We create the scene during Christmas as a devotion," he said. "Every year it's done different."

Anastasio used high-end Fontanini figures from Italy as part of his display, along with the base of a dead tree he found near the Hudson River.

The tree stump is the definitive aspect of the scene, and Anastasio said he looked far and wide for a suitable stump.

"We had no tools with us," Anastasio said of his first encounter with the centerpiece for his scene. "We had to go back the next day with a saw. We spent two-and-a-half hours cutting it down."

A tree stump with the right size and makeup has alluded Anastasio for years, he said.

"I've been looking for something like this for seven or eight years," he said. "I guess God sent it to me."

Anastasio said his exhibit has live grass and real plants, and features several symbolic aspects, including a small, broken temple to signify the fall of Rome and the rise of Christianity.

There are a number of shepherds featured in the nativity scene, as they were the first to arrive for the birth of Christ, Anastasio said.

He said nativity scenes have been portrayed since the 12th century. He said their popularity really took off in 16th century Naples, and now streets are adorned with nativity scenes during the time leading up to Christmas.

Anastasio taught art in the SUNY system in the 1970s. He said when he was 13 years old, in 1956, he came to the U.S. from Italy, but has visited the Old Country on several occasions, once in 1964 to study with other artists. He said he was heavily influenced during that time.

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